Truth cannot contradict truth by fdh56iuoui


									                            His Holiness Pope John Paul II
                                    October 22, 1996
                       To the Pontifical Academy of Sciences

                Truth cannot contradict truth
With great pleasure I address cordial greeting to you, Mr. President, and to all of you who
constitute the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, on the occasion of your plenary assembly. I
offer my best wishes in particular to the new academicians, who have come to take part in
your work for the first time. I would also like to remember the academicians who died during
the past year, whom I commend to the Lord of life.
1. In celebrating the 60th anniversary of the academy's refoundation, I would like to recall the
intentions of my predecessor Pius XI, who wished to surround himself with a select group of
scholars, relying on them to inform the Holy See in complete freedom about developments in
scientific research, and thereby to assist him in his reflections.
He asked those whom he called the church's "senatus scientificus" to serve the truth. I again
extend this same invitation to you today, certain that we will be able to profit from the
fruitfulness of a trustful dialogue between the church and science (cf. Address to the
Academy of Sciences, No. 1, Oct. 28, 1986; L'Osservatore Romano, Eng. ed., Nov. 24, 1986,
p. 22).
2. I am pleased with the first theme you have chosen, that of the origins of life and evolution,
an essential subject which deeply interests the church, since revelation, for its part, contains
teaching concerning the nature and origins of man. How do the conclusions reached by the
various scientific disciplines coincide with those contained in the message of revelation? And
if, at first sight, there are apparent contradictions, in what direction do we look for their
solution? We know, in fact, that truth cannot contradict truth (cf. Leo XIII, encyclical
"Providentissimus Deus"). Moreover, to shed greater light on historical truth, your research on
the church's relations with science between the 16th and 18th centuries is of great importance.
During this plenary session, you are undertaking a "reflection on science at the dawn of the
third millennium," starting with the identification of the principal problems created by the
sciences and which affect humanity's future. With this step you point the way to solutions
which will be beneficial to the whole human community. In the domain of inanimate and
animate nature, the evolution of science and its applications give rise to new questions. The
better the church's knowledge is of their essential aspects, the more she will understand their
impact. Consequently, in accordance with her specific mission she will be able to offer
criteria for discerning the moral conduct required of all human beings in view of their integral
3. Before offering you several reflections that more specifically concern the subject of the
origin of life and its evolution, I would like to remind you that the magisterium of the church
has already made pronouncements on these matters within the framework of her own
competence. I will cite here two interventions.
In his encyclical "Humani Generis" (1950), my predecessor Pius XII had already stated that
there was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about man and his
vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several indisputable points.
For my part, when I received those taking part in your academy's plenary assembly on
October 31, 1992, I had the opportunity with regard to Galileo to draw attention to the need of
a rigorous hermeneutic for the correct interpretation of the inspired word. It is necessary to
determine the proper sense of Scripture, while avoiding any unwarranted interpretations that
make it say what it does not intend to say. In order to delineate the field of their own study,
the exegete and the theologian must keep informed about the results achieved by the natural
sciences (cf. AAS 85 1/81993 3/8, pp. 764-772; address to the Pontifical Biblical
Commission, April 23, 1993, announcing the document on the "The Interpretation of the
Bible in the Church": AAS 86 1/81994 3/8, pp. 232-243).
4. Taking into account the state of scientific research at the time as well as of the requirements
of theology, the encyclical "Humani Generis" considered the doctrine of "evolutionism" a
serious hypothesis, worthy of investigation and in-depth study equal to that of the opposing
hypothesis. Pius XII added two methodological conditions: that this opinion should not be
adopted as though it were a certain, proven doctrine and as though one could totally prescind
from revelation with regard to the questions it raises. He also spelled out the condition on
which this opinion would be compatible with the Christian faith, a point to which I will
return. Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge
has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as something more than just a
hypothesis.* It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by
researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The
convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted
independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory.
What is the significance of such a theory? To address this question is to enter the field of
epistemology. A theory is a metascientific elaboration, distinct from the results of observation
but consistent with them. By means of it a series of independent data and facts can be related
and interpreted in a unified explanation. A theory's validity depends on whether or not it can
be verified; it is constantly tested against the facts; wherever it can no longer explain the
latter, it shows its limitations and unsuitability. It must then be rethought.
Furthermore, while the formulation of a theory like that of evolution complies with the need
for consistency with the observed data, it borrows certain notions from natural philosophy.
And, to tell the truth, rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories
of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations
advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on
which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist
interpretations. What is to be decided here is the true role of philosophy and, beyond it, of
5. The church's magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it
involves the conception of man: Revelation teaches us that he was created in the image and
likeness of God (cf. Gn 1:27-29). The conciliar constitution "Gaudium et Spes" has
magnificently explained this doctrine, which is pivotal to Christian thought. It recalled that
man is "the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake" (No. 24). In other
terms, the human individual cannot be subordinated as a pure means or a pure instrument,
either to the species or to society; he has value per se. He is a person. With his intellect and
his will, he is capable of forming a relationship of communion, solidarity and self-giving with
his peers. St. Thomas observes that man's likeness to God resides especially in his speculative
intellect, for his relationship with the object of his knowledge resembles God's relationship
with what he has created (Summa Theologica I-II:3:5, ad 1). But even more, man is called to
enter into a relationship of knowledge and love with God himself, a relationship which will
find its complete fulfillment beyond time, in eternity. All the depth and grandeur of this
vocation are revealed to us in the mystery of the risen Christ (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 22). It is
by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body.
Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent
living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animas enim a Deo
immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei"; "Humani Generis," 36). Consequently,
theories of evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them, consider the
spirit as emerging from the forces of living matter or as a mere epiphenomenon of this matter,
are incompatible with the truth about man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the
6. With man, then, we find ourselves in the presence of an ontological difference, an
ontological leap, one could say. However, does not the posing of such ontological
discontinuity run counter to that physical continuity which seems to be the main thread of
research into evolution in the field of physics and chemistry? Consideration of the method
used in the various branches of knowledge makes it possible to reconcile two points of view
which would seem irreconcilable. The sciences of observation describe and measure the
multiple manifestations of life with increasing precision and correlate them with the time line.
The moment of transition to the spiritual cannot be the object of this kind of observation,
which nevertheless can discover at the experimental level a series of very valuable signs
indicating what is specific to the human being. But the experience of metaphysical
knowledge, of self-awareness and self-reflection, of moral conscience, freedom, or again of
aesthetic and religious experience, falls within the competence of philosophical analysis and
reflection, while theology brings out its ultimate meaning according to the Creator's plans.
7. In conclusion, I would like to call to mind a Gospel truth which can shed a higher light on
the horizon of your research into the origins and unfolding of living matter. The Bible in fact
bears an extraordinary message of life. It gives us a wise vision of life inasmuch as it
describes the loftiest forms of existence. This vision guided me in the encyclical which I
dedicated to respect for human life, and which I called precisely "Evangelium Vitae."
It is significant that in St. John's Gospel life refers to the divine light which Christ
communicates to us. We are called to enter into eternal life, that is to say, into the eternity of
divine beatitude. To warn us against the serious temptations threatening us, our Lord quotes
the great saying of Deuteronomy: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that
proceeds from the mouth of God" (Dt 8:3; cf. Mt 4:4). Even more, "life" is one of the most
beautiful titles which the Bible attributes to God. He is the living God.
I cordially invoke an abundance of divine blessings upon you and upon all who are close to
From the Vatican, 22 October 1996.

This is a translation of his Message, which was written in French and dated 22
October. From the October 30 issue of the English edition of L'Osservatore Romano.

* The crucial sentence “Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical,
new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as something more than
just a hypothesis.” (in has also
been translated as “Today, almost half a century after the publication of the Encyclical, new
knowledge has led to the recognition of more than one hypothesis in the theory of evolution.”
(in L'OSSERVATORE ROMANO - Edizione quotidiana - del 31 October 1996 - file 044w03.rtf). The french original reads:
“Aujourd’hui, près d'un demi-siécle après la parution de l'encyclique, des nouvelles
connaissances conduisent à reconnaitre dans la théorie de l'évolution plus qu'une hypothése.”

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